Bowmore, 2018

It’s been a bit more than a week since I wrote a post on this here blog. The reason for this was announced in some posts on a Bunnahabhain and a Lagavulin, I was on Islay last week.

A long planned trip with my friends to the holy grail of peated whisky. The last time we were in Scotland we already started planning an ‘expedition’ like this, and contrary to that one, we actually wanted to see some of the surroundings from outside the car. We wanted to see Islay.

So, contrary to many people’s expectations we only planned one distillery visit per day, but decided to go (almost) all out on those. A tour in the morning, a tasting right after. Lunch to cool down and then some sightseeing.

On Monday we visited Bunnahabhain and did some walking on Jura. On Tuesday it was Bowmore’s turn and a small round trip between Ballygrant and Keills. On Wednesday we toured and tasted Lagavulin and drove around the western leg of the island.

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The tour at Bowmore, we did the Vaults Secret Tasting Tour, is a great one. My wife and I toured the distillery in 2010 and loved it. Unfortunately, back then there was a bit of a drought and the distillery didn’t have enough water to malt any barley. This time the malting floors and the Kiln were in use so we made barley angels at 50 degrees Celsius.

Our tour guide, Lauren, took us around the distillery and allowed us plenty of time for pictures, questions and random wandering around. She even put up with our bad jokes and chimed in herself with a quip or two:

“The water from the lade is brown, because it runs through peat bogs. It’s not because it’s sewage or something. That is what Caol Ila uses…”

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Before, during and after the tour we tried some whiskies, obviously. I didn’t take any notes. I thought not being an uber geek for once seemed the better option, so you have to forgive me for not having a proper review of a recent 11 year old Bowmore Hand Filled from a sherry cask, last year’s 27 year old Port Cask from Feis Ile and the Vaults Edition (this one will follow later).

What I do  have is a tasting note on the 10cl sample of a 1999 bourbon cask that was included in the tour ticket (either a bourbon or sherry cask, I picked the bourbon one). It does warrant a bit of an explanation though. But first, tasting notes.

Bowmore 1999-2018, Bourbon cask 1462, 53.4% – Handfilled by me, at the distillery on April 10th, 2018.

Sniff:
On the nose I got a good whack of dry smoke, with an earthy, peaty background. Some smoked tea, but not as heavy as Lapsang Souchong. Lots of yellow fruit too, apple, dried pineapple. Later it gets more and more grassy, with straw, heather and marram grass. Rather salty as well.

Sip:
The palate is more dry than the nose made me expect, but most people know I love a dry whisky, so that’s great. Slightly less fruity, although the apple is still noticeable. Hay, grass, oak and apple peels. Not too sharp, but very intense. The smoke is a bit sharp.

Swallow:
The finish is very consistent with the palate. Lots of peat and earthy flavors. Smoke, oak, straw, hay. Lots of fruit too, and slightly more bitter than before. So that suits the pineapple, and dry apple too.

90/100

Obviously it’s great. A nineties Bowmore from a bourbon cask is (almost always) something that gets me going. I love that this is a slightly atypical one in its intensity and peatiness. That is also where the explanation kicks in.

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Obviously, if you get into contact with a certain scent or flavor a lot, you can get immune to it. When walking through the town of Bowmore, there sometimes is a mist of peat smoke coming from the distillery that’s fogging up the streets. Also, when you start doing barley angels in the kiln, you smell of smoke afterwards.

Because of that, when I tasted this whisky in the No. 1 Vaults, I didn’t really pick up on the peat at all. I thought it was a very gently, very fruity Bowmore that was even slightly less peaty than I’m used to. Boy was I wrong.

I gave a sip to my father-in-law, last Saturday, and he figured it was too peaty for Bowmore as well, and went to Ardbeg or Laphroaig for his guess. And yet here we are. Bowmore in a different guise. Still, an epic dram though.

Also, when a bung is being hammered back in a cask, really tightly, by a female tour guide while she exclaims ‘I like to make it hard for people’, it’s apparently inappropriate to immediately blurt out ‘That’s what she said!’.

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Lagavulin Feis Ile 2017, 16yo, Moscatel Cask, 56.1%

In exactly seven days I’ll be at Lagavulin Distillery swith TT, FV and JE. We’ll be doing the tour and follow that up with the Warehouse Demonstration (if you look to your left, the thing you see there is a warehouse. Bye bye).

Hopefully the tasting will be hosted by Iain ‘Pinky’ MacArthur, similar to when I was there in 2010. They guy has been with Lagavulin for about five decades, which is an unimaginable amount of time, if you ask me. I am very much looking forward to it, as I am sure you can imagine.

To get in the mood, I decided to finish the tail end of my bottle of Lagavulin Feis Ile from last year. It’s a Moscatel cask, which (in an Islay dram) I generally combine with Caol Ila and their Distillers Edition. It was one of my first Islay whiskies, about 13 years ago or so.

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Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
Smooth on the arrival, and sweetly peaty. Quite earthy and dry as well. Vanilla, pear, but also the crispness of star fruit and white grapes. Later the oak starts coming through, and there’s a slightly nutty sweetness happening too.

 

Sip:
It’s a lot smoother than you generally expect from a cask strength Islay whisky. Rather gently, smooth and sweet, but there still is some sharpness. I’d say it’s a malty sharpness, somehow. A bit of a fatty, nutty texture afterwards. Some oak, earthiness and peat smoke, but more gently peaty than regular Lagavulin. Some sweet fruits too, pear, maybe even some raisins.

Swallow:
The finish is a lot more peaty than the palate. Almost like the 12 year old Cask Strength releases, although it does miss some of that one’s bite. The nuttiness and sweet fruits are present again, and after a while rather pronounced.

It’s a more sweet expression of Lagavulin than I’m used to, so I write that down to the Moscatel wood. Somehow, I find it a rather nutty whisky, which is not something I’m used to of either Lagavulin or Moscatel. The flavour of grapes is not too surprising when you realize this is a wine cask. Good stuff, and rather different than regular Lagavulin, which is nice for such a one off bottling.

89/100

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2017, 16yo, Moscatel Cask, 56.1%. Available through Whiskybase for some 165 euros.

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Bunnahabhain 1987-2014, 26yo, Sherry butt, 49.8% – Berry Brothers and Rudd

In seven days I’ll be at Bunnahabhain Distillery, or maybe I’ve just left to go have lunch somewhere. We’ve planned the tour and warehouse tasting and I’m looking forward a lot. I’ve only ever been at the distillery without doing the tour, so a trip with my mates to Islay was the perfect excuse to fix that ‘not having done the tour’ bit.

This 1987 Bunnahabhain, which is a great year for Bunnahabhain by the way, was a dram I first tried at my Blog Birthday Bash in 2014, courtesy of Teun (of Maltstock fame). Since then I’ve tried several from this vintage, and while all of them were great, I doubt any came close to this one. It’s a splendid dram and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to do a proper review of it.

A surprise Bunnahabhain. Very good, very fruity.

Sniff:
On the nose there’s a lot of fruit, and a lot of malt as well. Rather coastal. Sweet apples, but also some mango and peach. The malty notes come around like shortbread and butter biscuit. Lots of different scents, and even a slightly oily scent.

Sip:
The palate is slightly sharper than the below 50% ABV made me expect. Dry oak, with a texture of butter or oil. Butter biscuit, shortbread, apple, peach. Some lighter notes of herbs and spices later on.

Swallow:
The finish is very gentle, sweet and long. The fruits and the more coastal notes (sand, some salinity) last longest. Also the buttery shortbread notes linger.

You know when you think you know a distillery’s character and in most occassions you only find some of the characteristics that makes you love that distillery in a dram? Yes? This one ticks all the boxes when I think of Bunnahabhain. Lots of malt, fruit, coastal notes. Some oak as well, but not too much. Luckily this isn’t one of those heavily peated distillates. Somehow, the ‘really good’ peated Bunnahabhains are few and far between. Somehow it just doesn’t really thrills me. But this one… Damn.

91/100

Bunnahabhain 1987-2014, 26yo, Sherry butt 2462, 49.8%, Berry Brothers and Rudd

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FEW 3yo, 2013-2016, 63.4% – SMWS (B4.3 – Full Flavour Behaviour)

It struck me as kind of funny that one of the few (pun intended) American whiskeys the SMWS bottles has a name with two words that are spelled in a distinctly English way.

So, I got a big share of this, and it took me a while to get started on it, but after that it was gone fairly quickly. And not only because I don’t want too many open sample bottles standing around on my shelf.

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Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
It’s a very raw bourbon. Dry, sharp and spicy, with lots of grains. Typically FEW, or maybe ‘new wave bourbon’ instead. Tree bark, crusty bread, salted caramel and a campfire. So, charcoal, burning embers and that kind of stuff.

Sip:
Sharp, like on the nose. Sharp oak, sharp grains, sharp spiciness. Kind clunky with lots of oak. It doesn’t mellow over time, so it stays sharp and dry. Again, typically FEW, with tree bark and charcoal.

Swallow:
Very warming, almost glowing, with a significant afterburner. Charcoal, embers, dry, sharp and oaky.

I find this whiskey typically true of the FEW style, but contrary to some other brands that are in this style bracket, they seem to pull it off. It makes for a very interesting, and dangerously drinkable whiskey, without ever being boring.

Somehow, I noticed that this was a strong whiskey, but I would never have guessed that this was over 60%. I’d have guessed some 55% or so. Quite the difference.

But, after all is said and done. This is one of those whiskeys that, if you bought it, you won’t regret it since it’s really good and really drinkable. However, it is completely in line with other FEW products and therefore utterly predictable (predictably good too). That means it’s not so exclusive to FEW that you’d want to spend the significant uptick in price that the SMWS charges for it.

The current market price for this is some € 230, which is just ridiculous. I’d wait till a new cask strength release from FEW drops and comes in at € 80 or so.

85/100

FEW 3yo, 2013-2016, 63.4%, SMWS, B4.3 – Full Flavour Behaviour

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Two sherried Bowmores: Elements of Islay Bw7, The Four Isle Solera

When Ruben posted his review to The Four: Isle Solera by Woodwinters I knew I wanted some of that. And with Elements of Islay’s Bw7 for sale as well, a bottle share was quickly taking shape.

I even shared two bottles of each, such was the popularity of these whiskies. I wasn’t overly surprised by that since I know there’s a lot of guys in my group that love the sherry and peat combination. And with these two whiskies both having some decent age to them, popularity ramped.

I quickly tried them after I got my hands on them. Something I can’t say for all things I think I need to bottle-share (cough Jura One and All cough). Especially with a trip to Islay coming up in two weeks I wanted to get my peat on!

bw7-elements-of-islay-bowmore-whisky1Bowmore Bw7, 2001-2017, Sherry Butts, 53.2% – Elements of Islay

The peat is very intense on the nose, more so that I’d expect from Bowmore. The sherry is too, I’d say this is more in the range of those insane Port Charlottes than any other distillery on Islay. Wood smoke, peat, soil. Lots of fruit too, with plums, apricot, but also stewed strawberry and rhubarb. Later I get some aniseed, some leather and shoe polish.

The palate is fairly sharp with lots and lots of fruit. Red fruit like strawberry, but as on the nose there’s plum and apricot too. Rather dry with a lot of oak, fiery smoke and flint. Peat, salt, tar. Quite a ‘clunky’ whisky. Dry leather and shoe polish again, with some cigarettes.

The finish is a bit hotter at the start than the palate was, but is mostly dry and oaky. Less fruit, but there’s still smoke and ash, tar and even some browned butter.

In a way all these flavors are amazing, but it’s just a bit of a jumble to be honest. I really like it, but it’s not very refined. Very clunky, boorish maybe.

87/100

woodwinters-isle-solera-16-year-old-whiskyBowmore 16yo, bottled in 2016, Sherry Cask, 58.1%, The Four – Isle Solera – Woodwinters

Compared to the Bw7 (I tasted this one after that) it’s a bit more timid, even though the ABV is a bit higher. Menthol cigarettes, a light smoke with hints of sandalwood. Almost Japanese in style. Furniture polish, soft oak, some fruit like plums and date.

The palate is where the ABV kicks in, but it does stay more balanced somehow. It’s dry with cherry stones, almond and a lot of oak. Some coal smoke, charcoal, pencil shavings, menthol, date and plum.

The finish is more typically like Bowmore with a bit of orangy citrus, sherry and oak. Smoke and richness, with a bit of a coarse smokiness like cigarettes. Dates and plum.

Well, Ruben was right to get people enthousiastic about this. It’s a cracking dram of which I wouldn’t have mind to have a whole bottle to myself. The balance is stunning and I love hose the cedar and sandalwood scents are coming through. Epic stuff.

91/100

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Hazelburn 18, 1997-2015, Leaky Sherry Butt, 54.4% – Duty Paid Sample for The Sprinbank Society

This is a bit of a weird one. Initially, this cask was selected by attendees of the Springbank Whisky Festival in 2015, to be bottled as a Springbank Society bottling. However, the cask was almost empty when they wanted to bottle it, because it leaked. A different cask was selected and this cask was bottled for the attendees of the tasting instead of the Springbank Society.

Through a bottle share club I’m in I was able to get my hands on a sample of this, and recently I decided to try it, even if it was just to get through some of the sort-of-random samples I’d collected over the years.

Anyway, an 18 year old Hazelburn, that’s about as old as they were back then. Of course, we’re a couple of years down the line nown and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 21 year old popping up this year. 21 Seems to be the sweet spot for a lot of Springbank releases.

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Image from Whiskybase

Sniff:
Lots of oak, more than you’d expect from an 18 year old. This might be because of the leakage, which tends to concentrate wood influences in the remaining booze. It’s warming and intense. Toasted bread, lots of fruit, cherry, blackberry, almond, cherry stones. Crusty bread and slightly funky scents too. It’s a weird combination of freshness, funkiness and lightness.

Sip:
The palate is intense, but also crisp and dry. Funky, like a ‘real’ Springbank. Moldy and earthy, with dunnage warehouses, almond and hazelnut. Dry with old oak.

Swallow:
The finish mellows quickly, but still has some bite to it. Dry, lots of old oak and funky earthiness. The flavors you’d expect from the old warehouses at Springbank.

When the ‘Leaky cask’ was advertised, I expected some wacky, out of balance whisky with lots of oak driven flavors. Combine that with this being a Springbank and from a sherry butt and you start expecting funky mushrooms, moldy warehouses and lots of heavy fruit.

It delivers on all fronts. And it does so in great order. The out-of-balanceness of the whisky keeps it just shy of absolute greatness but if the society releases casks like this more often, I’d be a happy camper.

At the time of writing there’s only one bottle available through the Whiskybase Marketplace, for a whopping 400 euros. That’s a bit steep, if you ask me.

88/100

Hazelburn 18, 1997-2015, Leaky Refill Sherry Butt, Rotation 1013, Warehouse 15, 54.4%, Duty Paid Sample for The Sprinbank Society

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The Winter Queen, 9yo, 52.7% – Fusion Whisky

The blending of whiskies from different countries is nothing new. Ages ago this was done with American and Irish whiskeys, and in more recent years Bruichladdich mixed their product with some Irish whiskey as well.

Now, under the flag of Fusion Whisky there is a batch of new ones. The Glover was the first, mixing Scotch and Japanese whisky. Next was The E&K was a mix of Indian and Scotch, and now two new ones are out.

The Winter Queen is a mix of Dutch and Scotch whisky, and the Brisbane (not unexpectedly) mixes Australian and Scotch whiskey.

What I don’t really get is ‘Fusion Whisky’ pushing their name in all press releases, while the box shouts ‘By Adelphi’ on the front. Anyway, the font size on the front label and positioning of that label is a dead giveaway too. It’s an Adelphi product. Adelphi generally releases cracking booze, so expectations are high.

The Winter Queen (more on the name of it here) is a mix of Glenrothes, Longmorn and Zuidam whiskies. My expectations were that this whisky is a fruity sherried take on the high spiciness of Zuidam.

2018-03-20 07.21.422018-03-20 07.21.29Sniff:

The nose makes good on that promise. Insanely spicy and almost rye whiskey like, which certainly comes from the Zuidam part. Then there’s sweet, fruity sherry with a lot of oak. I guess the sweetness and fruit scents are from the Speysiders. Apricot, peach and cherry stones.

Sip:
The palate is relatively sharp with a lot of oak, and again a lot of spiciness. And with a lot, I mean a lot. Quite some fruit too. The rye-like Zuidam influence with the apricot and peach works wonders. Rather bitter with almond and cherry stone.

Swallow:
The finish continues down the same road, but adds more flavors of ground tree bark, crusty bread, fruit and barley.

Well, this is a cracker. I certainly love what they’ve done with the mix of the whiskies. It’s like the fruit and spice really builds on each other and elevates both flavors to a new level of intensity.

Apart from this being a gorgeous whisky (I love rye whiskey, which helps), I really like that Adelphi, whoops, Fusion Whisky, is experimenting with the blending of whiskies from different countries. It opens up a whole lot of new possibilities. Also, now I want to try the other ones too.

It’s still regularly available for about 140/145 euros.

90/100

The Winter Queen, 9 years old, Sherry and Bourbon cask, 52.7%, Fusion Whisky

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